The inhabitants of Planet 51 live in fear of alien invasion. Their paranoia is realized when astronaut Chuck Baker (voice of The Rock) arrives from Earth. Befriended by a young resident, he has to avoid capture in order to recover his spaceship and try to return hom
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One Big Goofy Misstep for Humaniac Kind
"Planet 51" is essentially a nostalgia trip, to the sci fi movies of the 1950s. It was a simpler time, when monsters were monsters, army guys were hard-asses right to the end when they realized their horrible mistakes, and screaming and running were as central to plot as teen angst and geometrically jawed heroes with their hands on their hips.
I love those old movies. The cheese factor sometimes outpaces a night at Chuck E. Cheese with a party of two dozen pre-adolescents, but similarly, something about the juvenile idealism of the times somehow makes up for the lack of subtlety. Not always the case at a Chuck E. birthday.
We don't do simple universality that well right now in Hollywood, that utterly irreplaceable element that made those old sci fi flicks not only bearable but got them under our skin in surprising ways. When the alien Eros riffs in "Plan 9 From Outer Space" that "all of you of Earth are idiots" we laugh, but yeah, we agree.
That essense of truth is what makes The Twilight Zone still so worthwhile viewing. It's what made the world flip when Orson Welles did his original broadcast in 1938 seeming to purport that aliens had landed, and stimulated an entire genre of film.
Where "Planet 51" works, it works fine. The idea is hilarious, really, that aliens lag behind us in development but only by fifty or so years, and in a path that seems to obviously leading them directly to iPods and Windows 7 by the end of the half century.
And the core of the idea, that any time we set foot on another planet, WE'RE the aliens, is so obvious in hindsight it's amazing it's not been exploited in a big film more often.
Where it's bad though, it's pretty mediocre.
The character design is terrific and so is the voice work from Jessica Biehl, Justin Long, and Dwayne "The Rock." Gary Oldman virtually channels Rod Serling as the imagination-challenged General Grawl, and Seann William Scott (one of those rare three first name guys who isn't a serial killer) has a natural groove as the proto-protestor Skiff.
But the clunky set-up, lasting about a third of the movie, is cringe-worthy, and it's sad. The dialogue is terrible, and hollow. This is a story straining for the meaning it presents as a fait accomplis in the final action sequences... but by then it's too late.
The 50s might have been an era of surprising naivity, but they also brought us "Rebel Without a Cause," just one of the movies "Planet 51" alludes to. With a little more James Dean depth and a little less Disney childhood pastiche in the mix, this could have been a really terrific film. Instead of kids struggling to grow up, we have an underwritten Hannah Montana episode -- without the integrity of the theme, of course.
It always seems sad when a movie spends so much effort, time and money on exploiting the full range of human ingenuity to pay tribute to human ingenuity -- then fails in the most essential part of the process: having something to say.